View Full Version : Questions for our legal minds
12-12-2005, 12:19 PM
I know we have some lawyers and future lawyers here, so I'm going to throw out a couple questions regarding copyrights and patents just in case anyone could provide some insight.
First let's talk about patents. A couple years ago I had a product idea. It was quite a good idea and I thought I would see what I could do about patenting the idea. I did a little research on the 'net, but I avoided those companies that promise to help folks with invention ideas because I heard about some people having their ideas stolen by some of those places. I was looking into what it would take to secure a patent and I was being told that it was going to cost so much money or involve the services of a lawyer to do the patent search. At the time, I really didn't have much money to spare and by the time I did, my wife came home and told me that my product idea was being sold at Target for $40. Apparently my idea was pretty good, but someone beat me to it. My wife has come up with a couple ideas of her own and we're wondering if there's a better way to search patents without having to spend several hundred dollars or hire a lawyer.
Then there is the area of copyrights. I have composed a lot of music over the years and since I perform some of my original stuff at times, I thought it might be a good idea to copyright some of my compositions. I'm wondering if I can secure the whole lot of them under one copyright or if I'm going to have to get each piece copyrighted separately. I'm trying to save as much money as possible here. Any ideas would be appreciated.
12-12-2005, 12:31 PM
The prior art component of patents makes it sort of tough to do on your own I imagine.
I believe you have de facto copyright on your music if you can establish the time that you created it. I think in some instances, sending yourself the music as registered mail and leaving it sealed can be enough to establish when you created it, but that might just be urban legend.
12-12-2005, 12:58 PM
Makers of creative works own the copyrights to those works automatically at the time said works are created. So there's no process to go through to get the works copyrighted.
Although, as posted above, it could be useful to be able to prove when a work was created if you ever want to bring an infringement suit, like Chef did in the case of "Stinky Britches."
12-12-2005, 01:10 PM
ORH - I am in the same boat. I have had 3 ideas I felt that could be worthy of filing for a patent, two of which are now modestly successful commercial products. ( not mine )
I have a third that I'd like to get patented before somebody else gets the lightbulb over his head.
Any info would be very much appreciated.
12-12-2005, 01:19 PM
I hear you ORH. When I was at Ohio State in 1999, I was in a marketing class. A class project was to come up with a soybean based product to market as a "green" product. The Ohio Soybean Council sponsored the project and gave a top prize of $1000 to the winning group of four students. My group won with my idea.
It wasn't rocket science or anything like that. It was basically Play Dough made with Soyflour, salt, water, and soyoil. I never heard anything else about it, and had forgotten it. Then three years ago I was walking around at the Farm Science Review, a large farm show at London, Ohio. The Ohio Soybean Council was handing out SoyDough to kids as a promotional item.
:dunno: What do you do?
12-12-2005, 04:19 PM
The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County is part of the Patent Depository Library System. They have staff who can help you understand more about the patent process. There is a lot of research you can do on your own that will help you decide if your idea is already patented or if it is worth it to hire a patent attorney.
Their number is 513 369-6932
Patent it Yourself by David Pressman (Nolo Press) is the best book for people who want to learn about the process. Every patent library should have a copy of it.
The Copyright office has all the information you need about music.
This is a link to their page on musical compositions:
There is a guy who comes into my library who does the thing where you send yourself a registered letter all the time. But he's also kind of a crackpot, so I don't really know if it's legit or not.
12-12-2005, 08:38 PM
You can always call your local Bar Association to find out about attorneys who might help you. They have free referral services. It may cost you a few bucks to pay an attorney, but if you have a really good idea, it might help to have someone helping you who knows the ins and outs of the Patent and Trademark Office. But if you don't want to go that route, you might try doing an online search of law schools. A lot of law schools run legal clinics where they provide inexpensive legal services to the community. I know Akron has a New Business Legal Clinic that helps out those starting or owning small businesses. Schools that have strong Intellectual Property law programs might have an IP Clinic that would be able to help you out on patents and copyrights.
12-12-2005, 10:13 PM
just to be clear on patents. You can't simply have an idea. You must develop the idea so much that you could write up a description sufficient for someone "with ordinary skills in the art" to make the product. You can't patent a time machine. Einstein couldn't patent the theory of relativity (although a lot of people used that theory to come up with tangible ideas that were patentable). You pretty much have to have already made or almost made "the thing."
Assuming you pass this test, then you have to realize that you're subjecting yourself to a fair amount of risk by getting something patented.
For example, you could pay the best law firm in Ohio $400/hour to research your idea and see if there's "prior art," and that law firm might work it's ass off, then come back to you and say, "you're good, let's proceed."
Then they could go through the process of defending your patent at PTO, successfully. Then you'd have a patent, and would have a monopoly on that product for 20 years retroactive to the time of application. Then you could spend money (or get venture capitalists' money) to bring it to market, and VOILA... your product is a hit.
And then, a few months later, after taking out a ten-figure mortgage on your swank new pad in Maui, you could get a call from your lawyer saying:
"you've been sued by General Electric.... It turns out General Electric's attorneys have unearthed an article in a library in Afghanistan, written in Arabic, giving definitive proof that your invention isn't novel.... Since it's not novel, General Electric is suing to invalidate your patent, so that it can market a new and improved cheaper version of the same damn thing."
In other words, we all hear the stories of people getting rich quickly from simple inventions. But there are a lot stories of people getting poorer quickly too.
To make things more complicated, once you figure out in your mind how to make the thing, you have a limited time (I think one year) to submit your application. So if you come up with an idea on Jan 1, 2006, then submit your application on Jan 2, 2007, the only way to get your invention patented is to lie to the patent prosecutor (commit perjury).
The policy reason for this is that they don't want people to sit on their ideas for long periods of time. they want you to bring your ideas into tangible form, quickly.
Copyrights are a different story. They're easy. If you write a song in 2004, and "affix it in a tangible medium of expression" (put it on a CD, in sheet music, a casette tape, etc.) and distribute it publicly, then YOU ARE the copyright holder. There's no longer a notice requirement (since 1976??), although I do recommend putting a "c" with a circle around it on the tapes you distribute. If someone uses your song in 2005, without permission, you can sue them for statutory damages ($750.00 - $30,000.00 at the discretion of judge). You don't even have to prove that you were harmed by the infringement. Obviously, if you're a big star, and the "harm" from the infringement is more than $30,000, you can ask for actual damages instead of statutory damages, but you'd have the burden of proving those damages are real.
If you do register with the copyright office (you can get the forms online), it costs something like $20 per song or collection of songs. (Me and the guys in my rock band would throw in as many songs as would fit on a CD and call it a "collection"... cuz we were poor). You then have to send your CD, tape, etc. into the library of Congress. Mainly what that does is eliminate the need to prove that you wrote the song first, should someone later claim he/she wrote it first. Your having registered the song at the Copyright office, shifts the burden of proof to the other party. But it's not necessary to go through the hassle, unless you expect someone to rip off your songs.
If you actually are getting airplay on your songs, then you need to think about joining a performer's rights organization (BMI or ASCAP), but it sounds like that's a ways down the road.
DISCLAIMER: I'm a law student... Consult a real lawyer a big "L" across his/her chest before spending any of your hard-earned money or taking any financial risks.
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